Blackbird Caye Resort Report
Turneffe Atoll, Belize
by Ken Knezick, President, Island Dreams Travel
Island Dreams' reservations manager, Jolene Mitchell, and I recently had the opportunity to experience a very promising new Caribbean resort. Blackbird Caye Resort is on its own 350 acre island, in the heart of Turneffe Atoll on Belize's outer reef. Until recently, this property had been predominantly catering to eco-tourists and research trips from California's Oceanic Marine and Dolphin Research Institute. Recently, however, the resort has begun to expand the emphasis on its dedicated diving and snorkeling program.
Always on the lookout for new diving destinations, Island Dreams arranged a familiarization trip to Blackbird Caye. With the invaluable assistance of TACA Airline's Juan Brothers and Janice Guirola, Jolene and I brought a group of 20 dive store owners, scuba instructors, and travel professionals from around the U.S. to help us evaluate the possibilities. Our group exploited the multiple airline gateways serving Belize, by flying from both Houston and Miami simultaneously. Our non-stop flights arrived in Belize City just ten minutes apart, and with all our luggage, thank you very much! As is Blackbird's routine, we were met in the baggage claim area by a resort representative who helped us move our luggage through the perfunctory customs inspection and right onto a 44 passenger air-conditioned motor coach for the thirty minute ride from Belize International Airport to the dock. Blackbird's package includes this meet and greet service, transfer to the dock (at the Radisson Fort George Hotel), and a boat transfer direct to the resort. The boat transfer is accomplished with a spacious 60 foot motor launch. We relaxed in comfort, drank rum punches, and nibbled on snacks as we completed the 1½ hour cruise to Blackbird Caye Resort.
Arriving just at dinner time, we were ushered straight into the large, circular central palapa that houses Blackbird's kitchen, dining room, and lounge. The meal, served buffet-style, was quite up to the high standards we had been hearing about the resort's cuisine. Following dessert and coffee, our group was treated to a comprehensive briefing from our host Paul Hunt, the resort's manager T.P., and dive shop operator Ibis. By the time that was done, we were quite ready to retire, and pleased to see that the staff had transferred our luggage to our individual palapa-style cabins. The rooms are spacious, with mahogany walls, thatched roofs, and a nice balcony overlooking the sea. They have full ensuite facilities, hot showers, twin or queen sized beds, and ceiling fans. There is no air-conditioning, but the steady trade winds kept us comfortable.
The resort's program is simple enough, breakfast at 7:00 am, lunch at noon, and dinner at 7:00 pm. The three individual boat dives go out at 8:30 am, 10:45 am, and 2:30 pm. That leaves plenty of time for beach dives, snorkeling, shelling, bird watching on the nature trail, or just swinging in the hammock and spinning dive lies. Sea kayaks and a wind surfer are also available for use at no additional charge. Our diving was accomplished from two smallish wooden boats, each equipped with a 200 HP Yamaha outboard. Fortunately, most of the dive sites are quite close; usually no more than a five to fifteen minute run. As the resort grows, I expect that the dive boats will be upgraded.
The diving can best be described as "aquarium diving." The walls start around thirty feet and keep going down. Other than a few marauding mackerel and small tuna, we saw few large fish on the reefs around the resort, but a very healthy and varied population of reef fish, starting with a plentiful supply of queen angels. There were equally beautiful queen triggerfish and rock beauties, durgeons, butterfly fish, various snapper, and plenty of predacious tiger grouper. On many dives we encountered large turtles. With a healthy array of hard corals, soft corals, and many barrel and tube sponges, there was plenty of room for lobsters and invertebrate life. Picking around in the crevices we came upon a pair of perfect immature spotted drum (my favorite Caribbean fish) and one big daddy full grown version. The sand flats inside the crest of the wall were populated with pearlescent tile fish, yellow-headed jaw fish, and acres of garden eels. As there is generally no current along the wall, it was very easy, pleasant going. Like I said, "aquarium diving."
Included in the weekly Blackbird Caye dive package is a full day trip to the Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye, and Lighthouse Reef. Rigged with tank racks, the large motor launch made a comfortable one hour ride of the trip to the Blue Hole. It's an interesting side note that our Captain had served as Cousteau's Belizean pilot when the Calypso visited the Blue Hole some years ago. The dive was planned for 130 feet, with plenty of safety decompression time. Visibility improved the deeper we went, and I found this to be a very exciting and satisfying dive. The purpose of diving the Blue Hole is to experience the unusual geological structure, complete with huge stalactites. But to add to the fun, we also encountered a good sized nurse shark and a very large barracuda.
From the Blue Hole it was a short cruise to Half Moon Caye where we enjoyed a most pleasant surface interval. Following a picnic lunch we strolled down the picture perfect beach and through tropical jungle thicket to a bird sanctuary alive with nesting frigate and boobie birds. The photo opportunities were superb. This excellent day was capped by a wall dive on Lighthouse Reef, a dive as fine as any you will find in the Caribbean. For all the fun, we were still back at our resort by 4:00 pm, where we capped off an excellent day with a beach barbeque dinner, followed by a world-class session of dive lies around the bar.
One factor that first brought Blackbird Caye to my attention was its very attractive price. Their monthly scheduled dive departures are going for $999 per person per week, including transfer from Belize City, seven nights lodging, all meals, and three boat dives per day, including the full day trip to the Blue Hole and Lighthouse Reef. This clearly makes Blackbird Caye the best value of all Belize's out-island resorts. Coupled with easy air connections from three major gateways (Miami, New Orleans, and Houston plus add-ons from around the U.S.), and service from three excellent carriers (TACA, Continental, and American Airlines), I see this destination growing in popularity quite quickly. Current capacity at Blackbird Caye Resort is just 24 guests. There are plans underway to upgrade the physical plant and add a few more cabanas, but from our discussions with the owners and managers, it sounds as if they intend to maintain the comfortable, easy feel and friendly ambiance of the place.
Beyond that, Island Dreams has dedicated color brochures and/or videos available for most of Belize's finest live-aboards, hotels, and resorts. You are invited to call or e-mail for additional information, advice, or assistance with bookings and discount airfares to the Belize, and other choice destinations around the Caribbean and the Pacific. Much of this information is also available on Island Dreams' extensive home page on the World Wide Web. You'll find the address below. Wishing you great diving!!
This Belize trip and subsequent report could not have been accomplished without the assistance of Juan Brothers and Janice Guirola of TACA Airlines, and Mr. Paul Hunt of Blackbird Caye Resort. Their contributions are greatly appreciated. KDK